“Structure and Subject Matter” at Dunhuang

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Michelle Wang’s Mandalas in the Making is a groundbreaking treatment of mainly ninth- and tenth-century wall murals at Dunhuang making use of recent scholarship on early Esoteric Buddhist texts, teachers, and themes in Chinese and Tibetan sources. The review article assesses and extends the understanding and defnitions of forms of mandala in India and China, recognizing the distinction between textual accounts of internal, visualized mandalas (bhāvyamandala), and the external, physical objects (lekhyamandala). Questions concerning the role(s) of the viewer and the purpose(s) of the Dunhuang shrines for the patrons and designers are also raised. For the patrons and designers, the shrines surely provided opportunities for acts of merit-making and expressions of gratitude for good fortune. For viewers and later visitors, were the shrines coded expressions of discursive Buddhist “meaning” and “repentance rituals,” as Wang mainly argues, or (perhaps also) locales for gestalt experience of the presence of consecrated deities? The attribution of the visual style to a Nepalese-derived Tibetan mode is also examined.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)255-272
Number of pages18
JournalArchives of Asian Art
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 1 2022


  • Amoghavajra
  • Dunhuang
  • Esoteric Buddhism
  • Guiyijun
  • Huayan
  • Tibet
  • Vajradhātu
  • Yulin
  • Zhang Yichao
  • mandala
  • Śubhakarasimha

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts


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